Someone from long ago and far away phoned late Thursday night to say she was glad I was back.
"Back from where?" I asked, since I had long returned from an extended sabbatical in the United States.
"It's not so much a case of back from as back to," she replied.
Intrigued, I demanded, "Explain."
"Your recent columns on Gloria Arroyo, especially the one on Villaroel's killing (Gloria's Friend) ," she began. " They are different from your other columns."
"Bad, huh?" I asked.
"Not your best," she was tactful. "But they had something your other columns didn't have. They had you in them."
"Come again?" I asked.
"Your other pieces---not just in the Tribune, but also those in The STAR and even those at the University -- they had sophistication, they had virtuosity, they had style; but they didn't have the Raul from way back, the one I knew," she was breathless.
"Go on," I urged.
"Your other pieces---I enjoy reading them because you have this way with words, playful, inventive, surprising; but that's all. But that Villaroel column --- I felt your anger, I could feel you shaking with rage, I could almost see your eyes narrowing, your lips turning pale, your fingers typing like there was no tomorrow, without care for the fancy phrase or the elegant word. And I find myself getting angry, too."
There was no stopping her.
"Remember Esty?" she suddenly asked.
Who can forget Estelita G. Juco---dear, dear Esty? Not me, not any of us who were among the first of a hundred Bedans whose lives she made it her avocation, her apostolate, to shape and supervise,; to whom she was big sister, mother superior, repository of secrets, court of last resort, shoulder to cry on, refuge of sinners (venial, only), comforter of the afflicted (academically, financially, romantically) , co-conspirator in pranks and plots, the woman we would rather be with when not with our wife, sweetheart, or sure prospect; but most of all, a first-rate writer.
"Remember what she told you at her deathbed? No, not 'Goodbye Is Not For Us' (That's the title of a corny short story I wrote in college when the girl Esty was pairing me up with flew off to San Francisco for higher studies-and eventually, marriage to someone else). Not that. What did she really tell you?"
The memories flooded in. Esty never stopped talking about how well I wrote, to her students at St. Paul's, to the young Bedans she took under her wings, to anyone who would listen and everyone listened to Esty. Yet I could sense in her a profound disappointment in me.
Shortly before her house in Quezon City burned down, as I was driving her home, I confronted her.
"Ok, what's wrong with me?"
She said, "You have grown old, you have become comfortable, you have forgotten to be angry."
She said I had become more concerned with how to say what is in my heart than with what my heart has to say; with re-writing instead of writing; with playing with words instead of just using them.
"Don't be satisfied with being a craftsman when you can be a man," she said. "Don't just be smart. Don't just be somebody. Stand for something. Mean something. Matter. Count."
To my excuse that martial law had forced me to write around instead of through a subject and that the habit had stuck, she laughed: "Go back. Go back."
Her last words to me a week before she sank, mercifully, into some kind of coma, were: "Rage, Raul, rage."
"Raul, you still there?" the voice of my midnight caller brought me back from reveries of Esty. "Remember the poem?" she probed. "The poem you showed Esty which you said you always scribble on the inside cover of your journals? Esty loved that poem and she wanted you to live by it. Do you still remember it? Is it still written in your diary?"
I do. And it is. And it goes this way.
Let me live out my years ---in heat of blood!
Let me die drunken with the Dreamer's wine!
Let me not see this soul-house built of mud,
Go toppling to the dust----a vacant shrine.
Let me go quickly like a candlelight
Snuffed out just at the heyday of its glow.
Give me high noon---and let it then be night---
Thus would I go.
And grant me when I face this Grisly Thing,
One haughty cry to pierce the Gray Perhaps!
Let me be as a tune-swept fiddle-string
That feels the Master Melody-
Copyright © Raul S. Gonzalez